Chichester Big Band in Ukraine fundraiser at Lavant Memorial Hall

The band dedicated Here's That Rainy Day to the people of Ukraine as well as working up a joyful noise with Peter Gunn and In The Mood

The Chichester Big Band at Lavant Memorial Hall, May 2022. Photo by Michael Tucker

The village of Lavant lies some two-and-a-half miles north of Chichester. The city and its environs have become known as one of the leading areas in England to offer much-needed (and deeply appreciated) support for Ukrainian refugees. Presented by the Lavant Ukraine Support Group, this jazz-fuelled Ukraine fundraiser evening owed much to the group’s indefatigable organiser, Angie Hardy. But as Angie emphasised in her brief spoken introduction to the hugely successful event, a considerable number of people deserved heartfelt thanks for making it all possible.

Chief among these were the members of the excellent Chichester Big Band. Founded in 2019 by multi-instrumentalist Beverly Cerexhe-Dickens (on alto sax here) and directed by band leader Steve Masters, the CBB left the cloud of Covid behind to deliver three sets of attractively programmed and freshly voiced evergreens.

They had the sold-out Lavant Memorial Hall now reflective, now rocking. And what a treat it was to experience the dynamic subtleties, the simultaneous weight and finesse of this five-sax, four-trumpet, four-trombone outfit devoid of any amplification. Only Masters (who proved a fine compère all evening) and bassist Simon Burnham drew upon the support of electricity. 

The band featured a healthy blend of gender in the personnel, with good spots from, e.g., Cerexhe-Dickens, principal altoist Debbie Scarrow and tenor saxophonist Andrea Parker. Dedicated by Masters and the CBB to the people of Ukraine, Here’s That Rainy Day struck an early, suitably pensive note, enhanced later by fine readings of Mood Indigo and I Can’t Get Started. But this was above all an evening conceived in affirmative celebration of what is widely seen as the extraordinary spirit of the Ukrainian people.

The pumping power and diversely turned yet equally irresistible figures of classic crowd-pleasers such as Peter Gunn, Lullaby Of Birdland, American Patrol and In The Mood (the last reprised as an ultimate encore) led jazz way back to its roots in dance, as many a member of the appreciative audience took to the floor.

Nearly 60 years ago, Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms sought the joyful noise of biblical lore even as the music recast the timeless import of David’s second psalm, with its elemental plea: “Why do the nations rage /And the people imagine a vain thing?” Why indeed, Putin?

In an unexpected prelude to the evening’s second set, Angie Hardy introduced professional vocalist and singing teacher Iryna and her daughter Mariia, Ukrainian refugees currently living in Lavant. The audience stood in stilled solidarity, as the pair offered an utterly compelling a cappella rendition of their national anthem.

Chichester Big Band in Ukraine fundraising concert at Lavant Memorial Hall, 6 May 2022